Personal? Or Political?

Ralf’s earlier post, This time its personal (scroll down to the first May 17 post if Blogger permalinks don’t work), got me thinking. I started to type a comment but it got too long.

I don’t think Dubya is personalizing anything by not talking to Schroeder. Ralf also noted that Bush’s contacts gain in stature just from being photographed with him. Bush is aware of this power and he is using for political purposes.

Bush has set a floor on what he will tolerate from foreign leaders. Snubbing Schroeder is about the United States, and perhaps the presidency, but it is not about GWB as any kind of personal matter. Bush likes to deal with leaders he thinks he can trust, and assesses them on that basis but, again, I think that is practical and not a matter of “personalizing” his policies or his politics.

Bush is cutting Schroeder because Schroeder’s conduct fell below what is acceptable. And Bush is wise enough to know that Germany is not = Schroeder, just as America is not = Bush 43. Schroeder will be gone some day, and his successor will think twice about how he chooses to speak to and about the United States. As to lost networking opportunities, that is not much of a price to pay. If someone has something they want to bring to the attention of the United States government, there are avenues by which to do that. A visit to Bush’s ranch or a convivial lunch with Powell is not absolutely necessary. Such perks must be earned. Bush loses nothing by not talking to Fischer on the phone, and he sends a useful message to others: Respect us. Don’t diss us. Don’t assume we will just choke down anything you may care to say about us or do to harm or thwart us.

We’re still not used to the Bush era. We got used to 8 years of Clinton. Clinton was a “68er”, though he did not have the guts to actually be in a riot like Fischer did, or even inhale. Still that is his origin: He’s a hippie. Clinton was comfortable with people, leftists, anywhere in the world, who instinctively hated the United States. Also, he was uncomfortable with formality, dignity or the symbolic and monarchic aspects of the Presidency. His incredibly bad neckties showed this. He had to goof on all that stuff, like dressing appropriately, to show that he was really cool. This matter of “tone” is one of the unspoken reasons Conservatives loathed him but true-blue Lefties loved him, despite the fact that his Administration did not really do much of anything substantively. These attitudes were also a big part of why Clinton was a horrible Commander in Chief — he just couldn’t handle the fact that he actually was the Commander in Chief. He probably wasn’t sure that there even should be a Comander in Chief. To Clinton, a guy who shits on America or its institutions is a rebel, an outsider, a radical, and hence at some level a soulmate and a good guy. And Clinton really believed that you always have to have a dialogue with everybody, that talk is the answer no matter what the question is, and no one is beyond hope. So if some foreigner attacks the US, even makes homicidal threats, Clinton’s instinct would be to sit down with him, get to know him, have a good heart-to-heart chat, understand how we had hurt him, seek forgiveness, try to move beyond the pain together. And Clinton wanted to be loved.

And the world took advantage of this, and got used to it.

Bush is a whole ‘nother smoke. Bush is a manager. Bush does not value process for its own sake. Bush knows there are people it is a waste of time to talk to. Like Arafat. And, apparently, Schroeder too. Bush decides on a small number of important things he wants to do and he sets about doing them, relentlessly. Bush does not care if you like him. Bush does not need to be loved. Bush has no time for people who instinctively hate the United States. Bush does not think that he has to win the heart and mind of everyone in the world. Bush is comfortable asserting the basic decency and value of America and its institutions, and vigorously opposing and imposing costs on those who assert otherwise. Bush is willing to ruthlessly employ lethal force against those who threaten us with physical harm. Bush wants America to be respected, and barring that, feared. So, while Bush has his personal idiosyncracies (the nicknames) he does not lose sight of his politicial goals due to any personality issues. And he is consistent about the bread-and-butter basics of politics — rewarding good conduct and punishing bad conduct. That is what Bush’s dealings with Schroeder are all about.

Ralf’s very valuable post (What Schroeder did right for a change, which is the second May 17 post) about Germany’s many contributions to the war on terrorism shows something important. Germany’s real interests and Schroeder’s public posturing are out of sync. This is true domestically, as well. Schroeder will eventually pay a political price for his missteps.

Meanwhile, I’m glad the Germans are aboard in the GWOT (“Global War On Terror”), which is not anywhere near over yet.